Articles I'm Digesting 10/09/2009

Here’s a few articles I’ve been reading that I’ve found particularly compelling.

Big Food vs. Big Insurance

by Michael Pollan  (via David B.)

This great piece talks about the secondary impact of health care reform – namely that if US Health Insurance companies have to insure every American they will suddenly care a great deal more about what Americans eat, as this is a major driver of healthcare costs. Money quote (the one David B sent me that got me reading):

“But these rules may well be about to change — and, when it comes to reforming the American diet and food system, that step alone could be a game changer. Even under the weaker versions of health care reform now on offer, health insurers would be required to take everyone at the same rates, provide a standard level of coverage and keep people on their rolls regardless of their health. Terms like “pre-existing conditions” and “underwriting” would vanish from the health insurance rulebook — and, when they do, the relationship between the health insurance industry and the food industry will undergo a sea change… Suddenly, every can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look like a threat to future profits.”

Here’s a great example of a leverage point, Pollan shows how healthcare reform will shift policy alliances, power and money in Washington and could allow for a long awaited (and needed) reform of food policy. It’s a fascinating analysis and it shows how strategically the Obama administration is thinking. They know that if they can win this battle – even with an imperfect bill – they will be gaining powerful allies for the next few battles. Brilliant.

Twitter: “pointless babble” or peripheral awareness + social grooming?

by Danah Boyd

A few weeks ago the Globe continued its war on social media by publishing this piece about how 40.55% of tweets are babble. It’s the kind of analysis that is so poorly constructed one doesn’t even know where to start in rebutting it. I’d been thinking for a while to write some coherent rebuttal, but fortunately Danah Boyd has already written it.

Open Government Data Principles

This is one of the best and simplest distillations of guiding principles around how governments should treat data that I have seen to date. Simple, concise, short yet comprehensive, these principles should hang on the CIO’s office wall in every government department or ministry around the world. As per their request I’m trying to think of ways to improve it, if I come upon any, I’ll blog about it.

Brand new old idea: The GoC Public Servant as Knowledge Worker

By Douglas Bastien

I remember when I had a contract with the Privy Council Office looking at young people in the Public Service and how they might network together, I took out a book that talked about managing knowledge workers in government and thinking how curious it was that few people in government saw themselves as Knowledge Workers. And yet, how government sees and manages its employees doesn’t always align with how knowledge workers would expect to be managed.

Doublas Bastien piece is bang on in its description of the problem. It is also a deeply depressing read. Depressing because one is forced to confront that so many of the challenges the knowledge economy, technology and social change would pose to government were identified a decades ago. Our government can predict and HR challenges, but when it comes to managing one… that’s a different story. But we shouldn’t be surprised, we don’t promote managers in government,  we promote policy wonks, and so we don’t manage the problems, we issue policies to deal with it. Definitely read Douglas’ piece, and if you like it, consider going back into my archives and reading one of the post on Public Service Sector Renewal I’m most proud of.